Farm Horizons, September 2002

Country schoolhouses then and now

By Julie Yurek

Clapping erasers, washing the blackboard, bringing in kindling, and carrying buckets of water are activities some people may know first-hand about, especially if they attended one of the many area school houses.

The following information is from the McLeod County History Book 1978.

Records of country school houses are sketchy, but the first ones were built in the 1860s.

Ages of students varied from six years old to 20 years old. The number of students ranged from 19 to as high as 65.

Schools only went up to the eighth grade. After that, if students wanted to pursue more education, they would have to fend for themselves and travel to the nearest town to finish school.

The first term in School District 48 in Bergen Township was from May to July in 1869. The first teacher was Rebecca Packer. Her salary was $24 per month, to be paid out at the end of her contract.

The next year Sarah Chambro was hired to teach from May to August in 1870 at a rate of $30 per month.

The school terms continued in two or three month periods of time, occurring twice per year.

It wasn't until 1887 that a regular pattern was set for District 48.

The first term was from October through February, and the next term was April through June. There usually was also a change of teachers between terms.

School District 35 in Bergen Township opened its doors in 1872.

In the early years of the school, the age of pupils ranged from five to 21 years of age. The school term was divided into fall, winter, and spring sessions.

School terms also lengthened as the years progressed. In 1881 students attended a total of 100 days; by 1893, days averaged 130 days, and by 1895, it was up to 150 days a year.

In terms of resources for students, it was established in the early years of the school that the library contained almost 60 books.

Teacher's wages were recorded as far back as the 1909-10 school year, which was on the average $50 per month.

Enrollment reached a high of 40 pupils. By 1930-31 though, enrollment was on the slide down, while teacher's salaries were going up.

From 1946-47 and until the time of consolidation with Lester Prairie in Aug. 1954, there were no more than seven pupils attending the school.

Near the time of consolidation, teacher wages had reached $100 per month.

However, during the Depression years, wages reached rock bottom in many cases. Many were willing to teach during those years just to have a job.

In those years, though, rural teachers were plentiful because of teacher training department in some high schools.

After finishing high school, if one took the additional year of teacher training, a woman was eligible to teach the first eight grades in a rural school.

The following is taken from "100 Years of the Good Life," in Howard Lake regarding "pioneer schools."

Condensed History of Wright County, 1935.

Pioneer schools were established in the first instance in private homes, and later in crudely constructed log buildings, heated in most instances by huge box stoves, with possibly a large iron drum to conserve the heat from the escaping flame and smoke.

These pioneer school rooms did not require any modern system of ventilation, and it was usually close to the noon hour before the temperature reached a point where all parts of the room were sufficiently warm to give comfort to the pupils.

Due to this fact, there were long benches placed about the stove where the pupils seated themselves during the early hours of the morning. The furniture was made by some local carpenter from lumber secured from the crude saw mills of the period.

The teacher was expected to serve as janitor, but in some cases, hired some boy living near the school house to build the fires.

If the teacher found favor with the older girls, they rendered voluntary assistance in cleaning the floors and desks, and in some instances, the windows.

This type of school existed as late as the early 1880s, when frame buildings were constructed, and in many of the more flourishing villages, well graded schools were established and modern school furniture was installed. In some instances there were schools of two, three and four departments.

The average monthly compensation of teachers in the rural schools during the 1934-35 school year was $69.72. The highest salaried teacher received $125, and the lowest $40."

Irene and Bill Fiedler, of Annandale, have lived in a former country school house since 1975.

Their house was the Maple Grove school, Irene Fiedler said.

Maple Grove consolidated in approximately 1970, Fiedler said.

"Bill was on the school board, and we decided to put in a bid on the silent auction for the building," she said.

After they bought the building, they moved it a mile and a half to their farm site, where they worked the next few years on remodeling it.

They did most of the work, except for some electrical, plumbing, and foundation work, she said.

The school house was built in the 1940s by the Workmens Public Assistance (WPA), Fielder said. The WPA workers did a lot of building in communities, she said.

"It's very well built," Fiedler said. "We enjoy it."

The Fiedlers' three bedroom home has trinkets of history placed throughout.

Three original windows can still be found in the home, though they are in different locations than when the school was in operation, Fiedler said.

Their fireplace bears bricks from the old Albright's County Store and from the Blacksmith Shop in Annandale, she said. The log for the mantel was taken from a log house that was on her father's property.

The stairway casing is from Bill's grandmother's house, Fiedler said.

"The house was being torn down, so we saved it," she said.

The living room, dining room, and a few smaller rooms have the original maple wood flooring.

"It doesn't looks like a school from the inside," Fiedler said. It doesn't look like it from the outside either. "To me, it looks like a white square house," she said.

"We took out the windows on the side of the house, and put in picture window," she said. The front door is in the same spot, but the roof over it is extended so that changed the look, she said.

Another amazing fact is that three of Fiedlers' children were educated in the building when it was still a school.

Fiedler also attended a country school, she said.

The Fiedlers have four children ­ Julie Entinger, Linda Weber, Lori Vander-steen, and John Fiedler.

The Fiedlers have never had an open house, but they would show their home to anyone who was interested, she said.

Irene works part-time at Cokato Manor in Cokato, and Bill farms with John, she said.

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